Of Course WWIII Will Happen

Could World War 3 really happen? How nuclear weapons and chemical warfare could lead to the Apocalypse as global tensions mount

Some claim that global conflict is closer than ever before

TENSIONS between the US, Russia, China and North Korea are spiking as President Trump sends warships into the Korean peninsula amid Kim Jong-un’s continued nuclear tests.

The escalation comes amid claims the US hacked Kim Jong-un’s latest missile launch and caused it to fail – as the tubby tyrant retaliated with threats of weekly tests.

Could World War Three happen?

Tensions between US, Russia, China and North Korea are increasing.

North Korea conducted two nuclear tests and 24 ballistic missile tests last year, defying six UN Security Council resolutions banning any testing.

And it has conducted additional missile tests this year – including one that failed when the missile blew up soon after launching.

The hermit state has threatened that “nuclear war could break out at any moment”, but most experts believe it would not launch an attack as it would not survive a revenge strike by the US.

President Trump is said to be bolstering American deployment in the region by sending the USS Ronald Reagan and the USS Nimitz to the Sea of Japan next week.

He has already dispatched the USS Carl Vinson, powered by nuclear reactors, carrying almost 100 aircraft and accompanied by destroyers, a cruiser, and a submarine to the area.

Russia, along with China, is said to have sent a spy ship to the area to ward off the task force amid rising tensions in the region.

And Putin urged the US to show “restraint”.
There was a time when it seemed like the prospect of war with the likes of Russia and China had disappeared with the end of the Cold War.
But tense relationships between the world’s major military players means that the outbreak of another global conflict has been raised again.

If World War Three does kick off how could it start?

Russia and America’s involvement in the war in Syria has created a situation where the two nations’ planes are reportedly flying dangerously close to each other on bombing runs.

If World War Three does kick off it seems the Russians could have something to do with it but it is more likely that if it ever did happen, it would be sparked hundreds of miles away from Syria.

An expert claimed Latvia will be Ground Zero — the country where the next global conflict will begin.

North Korea has warned “nuclear war could break out at any moment”, as US warships move into the Korean Peninsula but experts have said it is unlikely the hermit state would engage with the more powerful US.

Professor Paul D Miller of the National Defence University in Washington DC — who predicted the invasion of Crimea and the Ukraine conflict — said the Baltic state is next on Russia’s hit list.

But Putin won’t use conventional troops. Instead, he will recreate what happened in Ukraine and stir up the patriotism of ethnic Russians in the country.

“Putin will instigate an ambiguous militarised crisis using deniable proxies, probably in the next two years”, he said.

Who would win the war?

This is an impossible question to answer with any certainty, but if you are basing it solely on hardware it would seem the US is in the best position to win.

The US is the only country in possession of fifth-gen fighter jets – 187 F-22s and an F-35 that is not yet out of the testing phase.

Russia is developing one stealth fighter and China is working on four.

In terms of submarines the US Navy has 14 ballistic missile submarines with a combined 280 nuclear missiles.

They also possess four guided missile submarines with 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles each and 54 nuclear attack submarines.

Russia has only 60 submarines but they are said to have outstanding stealth capabilities.

They are also developing a 100-megaton nuclear torpedo.

China has five nuclear attack submarines, 53 diesel attack submarines, and four nuclear ballistic missile submarines to date.

However, the emerging superpower is developing more.

The Ramapo Fault and the Sixth Seal (Revelation 6:12)

Living on the Fault LineRamapo_Fault_Line

A major earthquake isn’t likely here, but if it comes, watch out.

Posted June 15, 2010 by Wayne J. Guglielmo

This chart shows the location of the Ramapo Fault System, the longest and one of the oldest systems of cracks in the earth’s crust in the Northeast. It also shows the location of all earthquakes of magnitude 2.5 or greater in New Jersey during the last 50 years. The circle in blue indicates the largest known Jersey quake.

The couple checked with Burns’s parents, who live in nearby Basking Ridge, and they, too, had heard and felt something, which they thought might have been an earthquake. A call by Burns some 20 minutes later to the Bernardsville Police Department—one of many curious and occasionally panicky inquiries that Sunday morning, according to the officer in charge, Sergeant John Remian—confirmed their suspicion: A magnitude 2.6 earthquake, its epicenter in Peapack/Gladstone, about seven miles from Bernardsville, had hit the area. A smaller aftershock followed about two and a half hours later.

After this year’s epic earthquakes in Haiti, Chile, Mexico, Indonesia, and China, the 2.6 quake and aftershock that shook parts of New Jersey in February may seem minor league, even to the Somerset County residents who experienced them. On the exponential Richter Scale, a magnitude 7.0 quake like the one that hit Haiti in January is almost 4 million times stronger than a quake of 2.6 magnitude. But comparisons of magnitude don’t tell the whole story.

Northern New Jersey straddles the Ramapo Fault, a significant ancient crack in the earth’s crust. The longest fault in the Northeast, it begins in Pennsylvania and moves into New Jersey, trending northeast through Hunterdon, Somerset, Morris, Passaic, and Bergen counties before terminating in New York’s Westchester County, not far from the Indian Point Energy Center, a nuclear power plant. And though scientists dispute how active this roughly 200 million-year-old fault really is, many earthquakes in the state’s surprisingly varied seismic history are believed to have occurred on or near it. The fault line is visible at ground level and likely extends as deep as nine miles below the surface.

During the past 230 years or so, New Jersey has been at the epicenter of nearly 170 earthquakes, according to data compiled by the New Jersey Geological Survey, part of the United States Department of Environmental Protection. The largest known quake struck in 1783, somewhere west of New York City, perhaps in Sussex County. It’s typically listed as 5.3 in magnitude, though that’s an estimate by seismologists who are quick to point out that the concept of magnitude—measuring the relative size of an earthquake—was not introduced until 1935 by Charles Richter and Beno Gutenberg. Still, for quakes prior to that, scientists are not just guessing.

“We can figure out the damage at the time by going back to old records and newspaper accounts,” says Won-Young Kim, a senior research scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York, directly across the New Jersey border. “Once the amount and extent of contemporary damage has been established,” Kim says, “we’re then able to gauge the pattern of ground shaking or intensity of the event—and from there extrapolate its probable magnitude.”

Other earthquakes of magnitude 5 or higher have been felt in New Jersey, although their epicenters laying near New York City. One—which took place in 1737 and was said to have been felt as far north as Boston and as far south as northern Delaware—was probably in the 5 to 5.5 range. In 1884, an earthquake of similar magnitude occurred off New York’s Rockaway Beach. This well-documented event pulled houses off their foundations and caused steeples to topple as far west as Rahway. The shock wave, scientists believe, was felt over 70,000 square miles, from Vermont to Maryland.

Among the largest sub-5 magnitude earthquakes with epicenters in New Jersey, two (a 3.8 and a 4.0) took place on the same day in 1938 in the Lakehurst area in Ocean County. On August 26, 2003, a 3.5 magnitude quake shook the Frenchtown/Milford area in Hunterdon County. On February 3 of last year, a 3.0 magnitude quake occurred in the Morris County town of Mendham. “A lot of people felt this one because of the intense shaking, although the area of intensity wasn’t very wide,” says Lamont-Doherty’s Kim, who visited the site after the event.

After examining the known historical and geological record, Kim and other seismologists have found no clear evidence that an earthquake of greater than 5.3 to 5.5 magnitude has taken place in this area going back to 1737. This doesn’t mean, of course, that one did not take place in the more remote past or that one will not occur in the future; it simply means that a very large quake is less likely to occur here than in other places in the east where the seismic hazard is greater, including areas in South Carolina and northeastern New York State.

But no area on the East Coast is as densely populated or as heavily built-up as parts of New Jersey and its neighbors. For this reason, scientists refer to the Greater New York City-Philadelphia area, which includes New Jersey’s biggest cities, as one of “low earthquake hazard but high vulnerability.” Put simply, the Big One isn’t likely here—but if it comes, especially in certain locations, watch out.

Given this low-hazard, high-vulnerability scenario, how far along are scientists in their efforts to predict larger magnitude earthquakes in the New Jersey area? The answer is complex, complicated by the state’s geographical position, its unique geological history, the state of seismology itself, and the continuing debate over the exact nature and activity of the Ramapo Fault.

Over millions of years, New Jersey developed four distinct physiographic provinces or regions, which divide the state into a series of diagonal slices, each with its own terrain, rock type, and geological landforms.

The northernmost slice is the Valley and Ridge, comprising major portions of Sussex and Warren counties. The southernmost slice is the Coastal Plain, a huge expanse that covers some three-fifths of the state, including all of the Shore counties. Dividing the rest of the state are the Highlands, an area for the most part of solid but brittle rock right below the Valley and Ridge, and the lower lands of the Piedmont, which occupy all of Essex, Hudson, and Union counties, most of Bergen, Hunterdon, and Somerset, and parts of Middlesex, Morris, and Passaic.

For earthquake monitors and scientists, the formation of these last two provinces—the Highlands and the Piedmont—are of special interest. To understand why, consider that prior to the appearance of the Atlantic Ocean, today’s Africa was snuggled cozily up against North America and surrounded by a single enormous ocean. “At that point, you could have had exits off the New Jersey Turnpike for Morocco,” says Alexander Gates, professor of geology and chair of the department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Rutgers-Newark.

Under the pressure of circulating material within the Earth’s super-hot middle layer, or mantle, what was once a single continent—one that is thought to have included today’s other continents as well—began to stretch and eventually break, producing numerous cracks or faults and ultimately separating to form what became the Atlantic Ocean. In our area, the longest and most active of these many cracks was the Ramapo Fault, which, through a process known as normal faulting, caused one side of the earth’s crust to slip lower—the Piedmont—relative to the other side—the Highlands. “All this occurred about 225 million years ago,” says Gates. “Back then, you were talking about thousands of feet between the Highlands and the Piedmont and a very active Ramapo Fault.”

The Earth’s crust, which is 20 to 25 miles thick, is not a single, solid shell, but is broken into seven vast tectonic plates, which drift atop the soft, underlying mantle. Although the northeast-trending Ramapo Fault neatly divides two of New Jersey’s four physiographic provinces, it does not form a so-called plate boundary, as does California’s infamous San Andreas Fault. As many Californians know all too well, this giant fault forms the boundary between two plates—to the west, the Pacific Plate, and to the east, the North American Plate; these rub up against each other, producing huge stresses and a regularly repeating pattern of larger earthquakes.

The Ramapo Fault sits on the North American Plate, which extends past the East Coast to the middle of the Atlantic, where it meets the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, an underwater mountain range in constant flux. The consequences of this intraplate setting are huge: First, as Gates points out, “The predictability of bigger earthquakes on…[such] settings is exceedingly poor, because they don’t occur very often.” Second, the intraplate setting makes it more difficult to link our earthquakes to a major cause or fault, as monitors in California can often do.

This second bit of uncertainty is especially troubling for some people, including some in the media who want a neat story. To get around it, they ignore the differences between plate settings and link all of New Jersey’s earthquakes, either directly or implicitly, to the Ramapo Fault. In effect, such people want the Ramapo Fault “to look like the San Andreas Fault,” says Gates. “They want to be able to point to one big fault that’s causing all of our earthquakes.”

Gates does not think that’s the case, and he has been working with colleagues for a number of years to prove it. “What we have found is that there are smaller faults that generally cut from east to west across the northeast-trending Ramapo Fault,” he explains. “These much smaller faults are all over the place, and they’re actually the ones that are the active faults in the area.”

But what mechanisms are responsible for the formation of these apparently active auxiliary faults? One such mechanism, say scientists, is the westward pressure the Atlantic Ocean exerts on the North American Plate, which for the most part resists any movement. “I think we are in an equilibrium state most of the time,” says Lamont-Doherty’s Kim.

Still, that continuous pressure on the plate we sit on causes stress, and when that stress builds up sufficiently, the earth’s crust has a tendency to break around any weak zones. In our area, the major weak zone is the Ramapo Fault—“an ancient zone of weakness,” as Kim calls it. That zone of weakness exacerbates the formation of auxiliary faults, and thereby the series of minor earthquakes the state has experienced over the years.

All this presupposes, of course, that any intraplate stress in this area will continue to be released gradually, in a series of relatively minor earthquakes or releases of energy. But what if that were not the case? What if the stress continued to build up, and the release of large amounts of energy came all at once? In crude terms, that’s part of the story behind the giant earthquakes that rocked what is now New Madrid, Missouri, between 1811 and 1812. Although estimates of their magnitude have been revised downward in recent years to less than magnitude 8, these earthquakes are generally regarded as among the largest intraplate events to have occurred in the continental United States.

For a number of reasons—including the relatively low odds that the kind of stored energy that unleashed the New Madrid events could ever build up here—earthquakes of plus-6 magnitude are probably not in our future. Still, says Kim, even a magnitude 6 earthquake in certain areas of the state could do considerable damage, especially if its intensity or ground shaking was of sufficient strength. In a state as geologically diverse and densely populated as New Jersey, this is a crucial wild card.

Part of the job of the experts at the New Jersey Geological Survey is to assess the seismic hazards in different parts of the state. To do this, they use a computer-simulation model developed under the direction of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, known as HAZUS, for Hazards US. To assess the amount of ground shaking likely to occur in a given county during events ranging in magnitude from 5 to 7 on the Richter Scale, NJGS scientists enter three features of a county’s surface geology into their computer model. Two of these features relate to the tendency of soil in a given area to lose strength, liquefy, or slide downhill when shaken. The third and most crucial feature has to do with the depth and density of the soil itself and the type of bedrock lying below it; this is a key component in determining a region’s susceptibility to ground shaking and, therefore, in estimating the amount of building and structural damage that’s likely to occur in that region. Estimates for the various counties—nine to date have been studied—are sent to the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management, which provided partial funding for the project.

To appreciate why this element of ground geology is so crucial to earthquake modelers, consider the following: An earthquake’s intensity—which is measured on something called the Modified Mercalli Scale—is related to a number of factors. The amount of energy released or the magnitude of an event is clearly a big factor. But two earthquakes of the same magnitude can have very different levels of intensity; in fact, it’s quite possible for a lower magnitude event to generate more ground shaking than a higher magnitude one.

In addition to magnitude, other factors that affect intensity are the distance of the observer or structure from the epicenter, where intensity is the greatest; the depth beneath the surface of the initial rupture, with shallower ruptures producing more ground shaking than deeper ones; and, most significantly, the ground geology or material that the shock wave generated by the earthquake must pass through.

As a rule, softer materials like sand and gravel shake much more intensely than harder materials, because the softer materials are comparatively inefficient energy conductors, so whatever energy is released by the quake tends to be trapped, dispersing much more slowly. (Think of a bowl of Jell-O on a table that’s shaking.)

In contrast, harder materials, like the solid rock found widely in the Highlands, are brittle and break under pressure, but conduct energy well, so that even big shock waves disperse much more rapidly through them, thereby weakening the amount of ground shaking. “If you’ve read any stories about the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, you know the most intense damage was in those flat, low areas by the Bay, where the soil is soft, and not in the hilly, rocky areas above,” says Karl Muessig, state geologist and NJGS head.

The map that accompanies the online version of the NJGS’s Earthquake Loss Estimation Study divides the state’s surface geology into five seismic soil classes, ranging from Class A, or hard rock, to Class E, or soft soil (state.nj.us/dep/njgs/enviroed/hazus.htm).

Although the weakest soils are scattered throughout the state, including the Highlands, which besides harder rock also contains areas of glacial lakes, clays, and wetlands, they are most evident in the Piedmont and the Coastal Plain. “The largest expanses of them are in coastal areas where you have salt marshes or large glacial lakes, as in parts of the Passaic River basin,” says Scott Stanford, a research scientist with NJGS and lead author of the estimate. Some of the very weakest soils, Stanford adds, are in areas of filled marshland, including places along the Hudson waterfront, around Newark Bay and the Meadowlands, and along the Arthur Kill.

Faults in these areas—and in the coastal plain generally—are far below the ground, perhaps several hundred to a thousand feet down, making identification difficult. “There are numerous faults upon which you might get earthquake movement that we can’t see, because they’re covered by younger sediments,” Stanford says.

This combination of hidden faults and weak soils worries scientists, who are all too aware that parts of the coastal plain and Piedmont are among the most densely populated and developed areas in the state. (The HAZUS computer model also has a “built environment” component, which summarizes, among other things, types of buildings in a given area.) For this reason, such areas would be in the most jeopardy in the event of a large earthquake.

“Any vulnerable structure on these weak soils would have a higher failure hazard,” Stanford says. And the scary truth is that many structures in New Jersey’s largest cities, not to mention New York City, would be vulnerable, since they’re older and built before anyone gave much thought to earthquake-related engineering and construction codes.

For example, in the study’s loss estimate for Essex County, which includes Newark, the state’s largest city, a magnitude 6 event would result in damage to 81,600 buildings, including almost 10,000 extensively or completely; 36,000 people either displaced from their homes or forced to seek short-term shelter; almost $9 million in economic losses from property damage and business interruption; and close to 3,300 injuries and 50 fatalities. (The New York City Area Consortium for Earthquake Loss Mitigation has conducted a similar assessment for New York City, at nycem.org.)

All of this suggests the central irony of New Jersey geology: The upland areas that are most prone to earthquakes—the counties in or around the Ramapo Fault, which has spawned a network of splays, or auxiliary faults—are much less densely populated and sit, for the most part, on good bedrock. These areas are not invulnerable, certainly, but, by almost all measures, they would not sustain very severe damage, even in the event of a higher magnitude earthquake. The same can’t be said for other parts of the state, where the earthquake hazard is lower but the vulnerability far greater. Here, the best we can do is to prepare—both in terms of better building codes and a constantly improving emergency response.

Meanwhile, scientists like Rutgers’s Gates struggle to understand the Earth’s quirky seismic timetable: “The big thing with earthquakes is that you can commonly predict where they are going to occur,” Gates says. “When they’re going to come, well, we’re nowhere near being able to figure that out.”


Planning for the Big One

For the men and women of the state police who manage and support the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management (OEM), the response to some events, like hurricanes, can be marshalled in advance. But an earthquake is what responders call a no-notice event.

In New Jersey, even minor earthquakes—like the one that shook parts of Somerset County in February—attract the notice of local, county, and OEM officials, who continuously monitor events around the state from their Regional Operations and Intelligence Center (The ROIC) in West Trenton, a multimillion dollar command-and-control facility that has been built to withstand 125 mph winds and a 5.5 magnitude earthquake. In the event of a very large earthquake, during which local and county resources are apt to become quickly overwhelmed, command and control authority would almost instantly pass to West Trenton.

Here, officials from the state police, representatives of a galaxy of other state agencies, and a variety of communications and other experts would assemble in the cavernous and ultra-high tech Emergency Operations Center to oversee the state’s response. “A high-level earthquake would definitely cause the governor to declare a state of emergency,” says OEM public information officer Nicholas J. Morici. “And once that takes place, our emergency operations plan would be put in motion.”

Emergency officials have modeled that plan—one that can be adapted to any no-notice event, including a terrorist attack—on response methodologies developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. At its core is a series of seventeen emergency support functions, ranging from transportation to firefighting, debris removal, search and rescue, public health, and medical services. A high-magnitude event would likely activate all of these functions, says Morici, along with the human and physical resources needed to carry them out—cranes and heavy trucks for debris removal, fire trucks and teams for firefighting, doctors and EMTs for medical services, buses and personnel carriers for transportation, and so on.

This is where an expert like Tom Rafferty comes in. Rafferty is a Geographic Information Systems Specialist attached to the OEM. His job during an emergency is to keep track electronically of which resources are where in the state, so they can be deployed quickly to where they are needed. “We have a massive database called the Resource Directory Database in which we have geolocated municipal, county, and state assets to a very detailed map of New Jersey,” Rafferty says. “That way, if there is an emergency like an earthquake going on in one area, the emergency managers can quickly say to me, for instance, ‘We have major debris and damage on this spot of the map. Show us the location of the nearest heavy hauler. Show us the next closest location,’ and so on.”

A very large quake, Rafferty says, “could overwhelm resources that we have as a state.” In that event, OEM has the authority to reach out to FEMA for additional resources and assistance. It can also call upon the private sector—the Resource Directory has been expanded to include non-government assets—and to a network of volunteers. “No one has ever said, ‘We don’t want to help,’” Rafferty says. New Jersey officials can also request assistance through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC), an agreement among the states to help each other in times of extreme crisis.

“You always plan for the worst,” Rafferty says, “and that way when the worst doesn’t happen, you feel you can handle it if and when it does.”

Contributing editor Wayne J. Guglielmo lives in Mahwah, near the Ramapo Fault.

Save The Oil And The Wine (Revelation 6:6)



After just over 10 years of debate, amendment and repeated rejection in Parliament, Iraq’s landmark oil bill is no closer to passing. The Cabinet first introduced the draft law in February 2007 to revamp and jump-start the country’s crucial oil and gas sector after the fall of longtime leader Saddam Hussein. And though the intervening decade has done little to address the underlying factors that paralyzed Baghdad’s attempt at reforming the energy industry, that hasn’t stopped the country’s leaders from trying. Since taking office in August, for instance, Oil Minister Jabbar al-Luaibi has steered Iraq’s energy policy in a more pragmatic direction. The legislature will soon debate the latest iteration of a bill to reinstate a national oil company to oversee the country’s smaller, regional firms, and al-Luaibi recently announced that Baghdad is exploring new contract models for foreign investors. Leaders such as Shiite National Alliance head Ammar al-Hakim, meanwhile, have proposed various plans to reconcile Iraq’s different stakeholders to end the country’s political gridlock. Even so, the differences between and within Iraq’s Sunni Arab, Shiite Arab and Kurdish communities will continue to undermine progress in the oil and gas sector, particularly with elections looming on the horizon.  

Mapping Iraq’s Discord

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a map is just as valuable in assessing the challenges facing the Iraqi government. The country’s oil production, which even at today’s depressed oil prices generates roughly 30 percent of its gross domestic product, is concentrated in just a handful of areas. In southern Iraq, the predominantly Shiite province of Basra alone accounts for roughly two-thirds of the country’s oil production; were it a country, Basra would be among the world’s top 10 oil producers. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq, along with the nearby disputed territories under Kurdish control, produces another 13 percent of the country’s oil. And the Sunni-majority regions in central and western Iraq produce little oil to speak of.

The uneven distribution has made oil a perennially contentious issue among the country’s three major ethno-sectarian groups. Following the United States’ invasion, however, the situation deteriorated. Iraq’s Shiite and Kurdish communities, newly empowered after decades under Hussein’s Sunni Baathist administration, intimidated Sunni Arabs out of politics. The ruling coalition then drafted the 2005 Constitution with minimal input from the Sunni community — and without clarifying which powers fell to which regions under Iraq’s new federalist model of government.

For the oil and gas industry, this oversight has proved a critical problem. The Constitution grants the federal government control of oil fields already producing oil. But it makes no mention of fields not yet in production, beyond stipulating that Baghdad must work with regional and provincial governments to devise a strategy for developing Iraq’s oil industry. Consequently, many Kurds argue that the KRG rightfully controls production in the region under the oil and gas law it passed in 2007, since several of the fields there were not yet producing when the Constitution was enacted. Baghdad, on the other hand, maintains that under the Constitution, the Kurdish oil and gas law needed approval from the Iraqi federal government to take effect. All the while, the country’s Sunni Arabs have advocated centralized control and even distribution of the country’s oil and gas revenue, hardly a surprising stance given their dearth of energy resources.

As troublesome as the dispute between Arbil and Baghdad has been for Iraq’s oil sector, divisions in the country’s Shiite Arab community are perhaps even more difficult to overcome. Iraq’s various Shiite parties have always held diverse views on a range of issues, including oil. Having won most of the Shiite vote in the first provincial elections after Hussein’s ouster, for example, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) called for the creation of a nine-province Shiite region, modeled after the KRG. The proposal aimed to give Iraq’s Shiites greater control of production in their oil-rich provinces. But it interfered with the plans of then-Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, leader of the Shiite Dawa Party, who needed a tighter grip on Iraq’s oil revenues to effectively rule. To make matters even more complicated, Basra has at times proposed forming its own region, a move that would cut the rest of Iraq’s Shiite population off from the province’s substantial oil production.

Iraq’s sectarian and political divisions have led to a decadelong political stalemate over the oil reforms. And though the country’s energy sector currently has other problems to contend with — such as the KRG seizure of two oil fields previously under Baghdad’s control during the battle for Mosul — the legislation is no less important. The Constitution grandfathered in existing oil and gas laws when it took effect, meaning that Baghdad is still offering foreign investors outdated contract terms put in place when it nationalized its energy sector. Without passing a new upstream oil and gas law, Iraq will struggle to entice more foreign companies to invest into its oil and gas industry (a contentious issue in itself).

A Reformed Strategy

This reality has become more glaring for Iraq’s politicians over the past few years, especially as tumbling oil prices strained the federal and regional governments’ finances. Combined with the Islamic State’s rise, which brought the country’s competing factions together against a common enemy, and the fall of al-Maliki, who had steadily increased his control over oil revenues, the price drop encouraged Iraq’s leaders to reconsider their approach.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has had to prioritize more inclusive reforms to preserve the country’s fragile unity against the Islamic State. Along the way, Iraq’s provinces have gained autonomy, however slight, in some aspects of governance, and the federal government has slowly relaxed its hold on the oil and gas industry. In early 2016, Baghdad approved a measure to split the country’s South Oil Company into two entities, the Dhi Qar Oil Company and the Basra Oil Company, each of which would oversee oil operations in its respective province. The prime minister, facing pressure from Shiite leaders such as Muqtada al-Sadr, also reshuffled his Cabinet in favor of a more technocratic administration last year to combat the rampant corruption plaguing Iraq’s government. As part of the shake-up, al-Abadi considered appointing a Kurd as oil minister — perhaps the most powerful position in Iraq’s oil industry — before settling on al-Luaibi, the ISCI’s nominee.

His final choice for the post has so far continued the trend toward reform. Prior to taking over the Oil Ministry, al-Luaibi was known as a technocrat who had guided the South Oil Company from 2003 to 2008, its first years working with international oil companies after Hussein’s government collapsed. (Rumor has it that al-Maliki removed al-Luaibi as head of the company to reassert central control over it.) He is also the first Basrawi oil minister in recent years. But more important, al-Luaibi has acted pragmatically since assuming the post. He announced shortly after taking office that he intended to broker a deal with the KRG; within a month, Arbil and Baghdad arranged to jointly export oil produced in Kirkuk through the North Oil Company, splitting the proceeds. More recently, he finalized the South Oil Company’s split and advanced the measure to reinstate the Iraqi National Oil Company.

Relative to other proposed reforms, the national oil company bill may be the least contentious. Iraq has not had a unified national oil company since 1987, and its regionally focused oil firms, such as the North Oil Company, currently fall under the Oil Ministry’s purview. Resurrecting the Iraqi National Oil Company would likely distance the ministry from the country’s oil firms, enabling it to focus on regulation; beyond that, the change would not be terribly dramatic. Nevertheless, the last time Iraq debated a draft of the legislation, in March 2016, Kurdish politicians opposed the measure because of the number of oil fields it would turn over to the national company’s control.

Furthermore, whether Iraq’s political groups share the prime minister and oil minister’s zest for energy reform is unclear. The country’s Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite populations are still divided, not only among but also within themselves. And their differences often play out on the national stage. In March, for example, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan tried to stymie the rival Kurdistan Democratic Party’s cooperation with Baghdad over energy production and increase its share of revenues by seizing control of oil facilities in Kirkuk. The degree to which Iraq should be federalized, moreover, is a subject of fierce debate between Iraq’s Kurdish and Sunni Arab communities.

More of the Same

Still, some politicians seem to be on board with change. Al-Hakim, leader of Iraq’s National Alliance as well as the ISCI, announced a framework in October, proposing a dialogue to reconcile Iraq’s various groups. One of the main components of his plan, dubbed the “historic settlement,” is to discuss expanding and formalizing federalism in Iraq, something he and the ISCI have long advocated. Al-Hakim has reached out to Kurdish leaders to drum up support for his dialogue, leading a high-level delegation to the KRG earlier this month to meet with its president, Masoud Barzani. Not to be outdone, al-Sadr — an ideological rival — released his own framework in February. Compared with al-Hakim’s proposal, al-Sadr’s plan envisions a solution more in line with the Sunnis’ interests, including a more centralized government and the disbanding of the Shiite-majority Popular Mobilization Forces.

Notwithstanding their stated goal of national reconciliation, both leaders devised their frameworks with Iraq’s upcoming legislative elections in mind. The country’s Shiite groups lack cohesion. (They will retain the most important positions in government regardless, however, if only because Iraq is a Shiite-majority country.) Besides al-Sadr and al-Hakim, al-Maliki also has strong support in predominantly Shiite areas, even though he is a divisive figure. As the vote approaches, and the fight to retake Mosul winds down, each leader is trying to influence the country in a way that will best serve his political goals. They’re not alone, either. Foreign powers such as the United States, Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are also working to shape Iraq’s future to suit their own agendas, further complicating the country’s reconciliation process.

Iraq’s political gridlock looks sure to continue. For the country’s oil and gas sector, this means more of the same: The energy reform that has eluded Baghdad for the past decade will stay at bay, even if Parliament manages to pass the national oil company bill. And the country’s leaders will have to keep relying on executive and ministerial authority to try to make piecemeal reforms in the meantime.

Korea’s Dangerous Nuclear Game


Why North Korea’s Nuclear and Missile Programs Are Far More Dangerous Than They Look

On Friday, the news media were so sure North Korea would conduct a nuclear test over the weekend to celebrate the 105th birthday of Kim Il-Sung that they almost started a countdown clock. The test never happened. Some experts said this was because President Trump caused North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to “blink.”

On Saturday, North Korea did attempt a celebratory ballistic-missile test, which failed seconds after launch. There has been speculation in the media that this failure was due to U.S. sabotage, possibly a cyberattack.

While I believe the above explanations of both events are unlikely, North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs still pose serious and growing threats because they represent an unstable regime developing and testing increasingly advanced WMDs based on poor engineering and badly inadequate R&D. This is why a new U.S. approach to the threat from North Korea is long overdue.

I did not believe a nuclear test would occur as part of North Korea’s weekend celebration. I was not convinced by commercial-satellite imagery cited by some experts as evidence of an imminent nuclear test, since there is constant activity at North Korea’s nuclear test site that often leads to predictions of nuclear tests that do not occur. On the other hand, when North Korea actually conducts nuclear tests, these same experts are usually caught off guard.

Predicting North Korean nuclear tests is difficult, because Pyongyang is aware it is being watched by U.S. spy satellites. North Korea probably engages in subterfuge at its test site to make the world think nuclear tests are imminent when they are not, and to conceal preparations for actual tests.

North Korean nuclear tests during major celebrations like the 105th birthday of Kim Il-Sung are unlikely because, as North Korea’s nuclear program becomes more sophisticated, the chances of failed tests increase. North Korean leaders probably wanted to avoid the humiliation of a failed nuclear test on an important holiday when the eyes of the world were fixed on the Hermit Kingdom.

There also is a more likely and simpler explanation for North Korea’s April 15 missile test and its subsequent failure.

North Korean officials probably decided to conduct a missile test as a demonstration of their nation’s military might that had a higher likelihood of success than a nuclear test.

While some experts are speculating the missile test failed because of U.S. sabotage or cyber warfare, the more likely explanation is that the failure was due to the poor state of North Korean science and engineering. Arms-control expert Jeffrey Lewis is “deeply skeptical” that the U.S. was responsible for the failed missile test, and he said in a recent Axios.com interview, “The failures we’ve seen are better explained by the pains of the R&D process. There is a reason that ‘rocket science’ is a metaphor for something that is hard to do.”

About 50 percent of North Korean missile tests — and 88 percent of its intermediate Musudan missile tests — have failed. This is what happens when a brutal totalitarian regime tries to pursue a complex weapons program using borrowed and stolen technology and relies on third-rate scientists.

It goes without saying that the world’s leading experts in rocketry and physics are not flocking to North Korea to work on the WMD programs of an evil totalitarian regime with a serious job-security problem — Leader Kim may have you executed if your project encounters failures or setbacks.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs prove the old adage “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” The research-and-engineering deficiencies of these weapon programs make them more dangerous and unpredictable, since this unstable rogue nation is rapidly developing increasingly advanced WMD technologies that its scientists may not fully understand and have been poorly designed. This increases the chances of a catastrophic accident, possibly when an ICBM test goes off course and strikes a neighboring country.

Moreover, more powerful North Korean underground nuclear tests could accidentally release large amounts of radioactive gases that could threaten neighboring states. According to former director of Los Alamos National Laboratory Siegfried Hecker, “one of the risks Pyongyang takes in trying to demonstrate a [nuclear] test at a higher level is that they may produce fissures that allow radioactive seepage or possibly cause a major blowout from the tunnel.”

Only North Korea’s leaders know exactly how advanced their nuclear-weapons program is. It does appear, based on seismic data after previous North Korean nuclear tests, that its nuclear devices are increasing in yield. The world must assume the worst: that North Korea’s nuclear-weapons program is making rapid advances in developing more powerful nuclear warheads that will eventually be mounted on missiles, including ICBMs capable of hitting the United States.
Similarly, despite setbacks in its ballistic-missile program, there are signs that Pyongyang is accelerating this effort and making significant progress. While the parade of missiles and missile canisters displayed over the weekend in Pyongyang may have included mockups of missiles that are not operational or empty canisters, the parade included what appeared to be two brand-new ICBMs and solid-fueled intermediate-range missiles that can be launched quickly and are easy to hide. The submarine-launched KN-11 missile also was displayed; it could pose a serious threat to Japan and South Korea.
Despite setbacks in its ballistic-missile program, there are signs that Pyongyang is accelerating this effort and making significant progress.

The short- to medium-term risks from North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs probably will not be ICBMs carrying nuclear warheads fired at the United States. They are more likely to stem from catastrophic failures of missile or nuclear tests.

North Korean long-range missile tests will be especially provocative, since the United States and regional states may try to shoot them down out of concern that these missiles could accidentally strike a neighboring state and because they cannot be sure they are not North Korean attacks. This could spark North Korean retaliation and a dangerous military confrontation.

A future underground North Korean nuclear test that vents significant amounts of radioactive gases might be a game changer and could fundamentally change Beijing’s approach to the North Korean nuclear program if these gases drift over Chinese territory. The Trump administration must explain this possibility to Beijing, and why it must act before such a disaster occurs.

North Korea has learned over the last 25 years that developing, testing, and threating to attack with nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles is a successful strategy to extort concessions from the international community in exchange for pretending to halt these programs. I believe the Trump administration understands that the Kim regime’s missile and nuclear programs are becoming too dangerous to allow this pattern of appeasement to continue. Hopefully China also realizes this too, and will begin cooperating with the United States to implement more aggressive steps to pressure Pyongyang to halt these programs and work with Washington on the only real solution to the North Korean problem: regime change.

— Fred Fleitz is senior vice president for policy and programs with the Center for Security Policy. He worked in national-security positions for 25 years with the CIA, the State Department, and the House Intelligence Committee. Follow him on Twitter @fredfleitz ‌

Tillerson Threatens To Go After Iran

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Tillerson slams Iran nuclear deal as ‘failed approach,’ vows ‘comprehensive review’

Published April 19, 2017


Secretary of State Rex Tillerson ratcheted up criticism Wednesday of the Obama-era nuclear deal with Iran, publicly confirming the Trump administration is conducting a “comprehensive review” and declaring they have “no intention of passing the buck.”

In some of his toughest language yet, Tillerson said at a brief press conference that the Iran deal “fails to achieve the objective of a non-nuclear Iran,” and only delays it becoming a nuclear state.

He faulted the agreement for “buying off” a foreign power with nuclear ambitions, saying: “We just don’t see that that’s a prudent way to be dealing with Iran.”

The statement comes after he said in a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis, that the administration has undertaken a full review of the agreement to evaluate whether continued sanctions relief is in the best interest of the U.S.

In the same notification, the administration said Iran is complying with the landmark nuclear deal negotiated by former President Obama, and the U.S. has extended sanctions relief to Tehran in exchange for curbs on its atomic program.

But Tillerson noted in his letter, and repeated during his appearance Wednesday, that Iran continues to foment violence around the world.

“Iran spends its treasure and time disrupting peace,” he said Wednesday. “Iran’s nuclear ambitions are a grave risk to international peace and security.”

While not saying definitively whether the administration is inclined to uphold or scrap the deal, Tillerson said they will meet the challenge of Iran with “clarity and conviction” once the review is done.

“The Trump administration has no intention of passing the buck to a future administration on Iran,” he said, claiming the deal represents the “failed approach” of the past.

Tillerson also likened Iran’s behavior to that of North Korea. He said an unchecked Iran could pursue the same path as Pyongyang “and take the world along with it.”

As a candidate in the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump was an outspoken critic of the deal but had offered conflicting opinions on whether he would try to scrap it, modify it or keep it in place with more strenuous enforcement. Tuesday’s determination suggested that while Trump agreed with findings by the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, that Iran is keeping to its end of the bargain, he is looking for another way to ratchet up pressure on Tehran.

The nuclear deal was sealed in Vienna in July 2015 after 18 months of negotiations led by former Secretary of State John Kerry and diplomats from the other four permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — Britain, China, France and Russia — and Germany. Under its terms, Iran agreed to curb its nuclear program, long suspected of being aimed at developing atomic weapons, in return for billions of dollars in sanctions relief.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.